And the weekly system I used to ensure this
Photo by Malachi Brooks on Unsplash
The month was August 2020, and my university term was rapidly approaching. This is usually a time where I try to settle back into a schedule.
But there was one problem.
After what was months spent in lockdown, and then somewhat of a ‘free’ summer. I realized that my life had lost all sense of structure.
Simply put: I was an unorganized mess with no direction in life, waiting to implode mentally.
Desperately in need of structure and change, I read a chapter in Ryan Holiday’s: Stillness is the key, on the importance of journaling your thoughts. I researched this habit then came across ‘bullet journaling’.
Bullet journaling is a method of self-organization in a journal that has, yep you guessed it, loads of tiny bullet points, and you use them to follow (or adapt) a certain system created by Ryder Caroll.
Taking inspiration from the original bullet journalling method, and using a bit of personal trial and error, my journal slowly started to change my life in ways I had no idea that it could. I religiously used my journal every damn day.
I’m going to share with you a system I used and the aspects of my unhealthily messy life that it changed.
All the greatest things in life are simple.
Photo by travelnow.or.crylater on Unsplash
Bullet journalling is meant to be one of the most simple things in your life. This Pinterest subculture of glamorizing journalling into some sort of artistic project is what led me to feel so overwhelmed with where to start and almost made me quit on the first day!
Image from Claire Chalmers on Pinterest
The above image is exactly what not to do. Ditch the obnoxious art.
It’s best to ignore the complicated methods when starting out with a journal. Simplicity is the key. All you need is a black pen, a ruler, and a mind ready to transform.
A good and effective journal will have 4 key components:
- A section dedicated to goal setting (long-medium term or something like new Year resolutions).
- A monthly spread with important dates and monthly agendas.
- A weekly spread with daily to-do lists and weekly objectives.
- A blank space to write freely about whatever you want to
I wholeheartedly urge you to not go onto Pinterest for ‘inspiration’ on where to start, it will leave you feeling like journalling is going to become a tedious and complex chore when it’s meant to be a simple and minimalist habit that will improve your life.
If you don’t know where to start, the best place to go is to the original creator of the ‘bullet journal method’. His youtube channel is where he takes you through the original and simple method. Ryde Caroll is a lifesaver.
“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don't understand it yourself” — Albert Einstein
Always remember, the goal with this is simplicity. Simplicity is the key to longevity and effectiveness in the journalling world.
The system that changed me
It looks too simple to be effective right? I bet you're thinking “How can something with such little substance ever be effective?”. Well, simplicity will always outperform complexity.
This is the system that I devised through trial and error and is what binds all aspects of my life together into a state of productive fluidity. It’s been responsible for me getting a grip over my life in terms of time management specifically and helped me to constantly strive for new goals every week.
Let’s break it down for you. It is the most simple thing you will come across today.
Every single Sunday, before the new week rolls around, I’ll sit at my desk and create this exact spread you see before you. It brings me meditative satisfaction when I organize my life in such a purposeful way.
As you can see (top left corner) it entails all seven days from January 11th to January 17th. I include this at the top so I can keep track of what week it is in the month and when each day is.
Daily to-do lists:
On the right-hand side page you will see seven different boxes; one for each day of the week.
This is your daily to-do list. It’s where you put all the things you want to get done that day, such as sending an important email or going on a run.
I typically set the daily to-do list up the night before so I have an idea of what I need to do the next day.
The effectiveness of to-do lists is specifically shown by the “Zeignarnik Effect”. This highlights how we remember things we need to do better than the things we have already done.
Therefore, uncompleted tasks linger in our minds for longer periods of time causing us stress and grief, whilst tasks we have already done simply pass through our minds free of constraint.
This is why ticking something off a to-do list is satisfying, it relieves our brain of the burden of an unfinished task as we no longer have to think about it.
The left-hand side page is more for personal reflection, in contrast to the pragmatic nature of the to-do lists. A harmonious balance of opposites that results in maximized efficiency and purposeful direction.
The three subheadings you see (school, work, and personal) are all for weekly goals or larger tasks relating to them that usually take a few days to complete. I fill these out on Sunday too and these goals or tasks get evaluated the following Sunday, it’s a consistent cycle.
- I have goals or large objectives relating to school, which may be to do something such as work on a specific paper or to contribute in debates more
- The same applies to work. Write out weekly goals that relate to your work, such as find a new client.
- Personal goals are the most important in this section and usually the largest list. E.g to finish a book I'm reading, work up to meditating for a full 20 minute period, or fitness related targets like hitting the gym 5x
You can substitute and tweak these sections as it pleases you because remember, journalling is an entirely personal practice.
Review your week:
The weekly review is the best part of this system.
Yet again it’s super simple. On Sunday write things you noticed that seemed to work for you. Like you may have noticed how stretching every day really helped your shoulder pain. It’s important to highlight these things so you can carry them into your next week and place higher importance on them.
And of course highlighting things that really didn’t work, like a new diet you tried, or going to bed at a certain time that kept making you more groggy. This is where we evaluate in order to improve.
It’s like tuning a guitar to get to the perfect pitch. Except there is no perfect pitch for humans, it will always go on.
No human can achieve perfection and you should already know and understand this. Don’t be harsh on yourself when seeing you didn’t complete certain tasks. This fine-tuning of your habits build up over time in a magnificent way.
Image by the author. Example of a completed weekly spread.
Tiny improvements cause impactful development
When using this simple journaling system, the most beneficial aspect of it is where you set your goals for the week. These goals may seem tiny or irrelevant, and if you don’t achieve them, or even if you do, nothing much will change in your life.
How you can become 37x better:
Let’s equate these little goals to a single percentage. So in effect, each time you complete these weekly goals you are improving yourself by 1%.
Sure, this number may seem underwhelming, pointless even. However, if you strive for these singular percentile improvements every day for a year, you’ll end up becoming 37% better than when you started.
This is the effectiveness of focusing on the tiny marginal gains. Of course, we may be discouraged seeing little to no change on a day to day basis as I was myself, but this is about the bigger picture.
This discovery was popularized by the author of ‘Atomic Habits’, James Clear. He calls it “The Power of Tiny Gains”.
Self-improvement is a lifelong journey and it doesn't happen overnight. If you continue with these marginal gains, then look back at where you were a few months ago, the differences will be astronomical, to say the least.
If I go back to the very first of my weekly spreads, which was 6 months ago, and I progressively flick through them until I get to the current one of this week. I can visibly see how much progress I’ve made. For example, In September, one of my personal goals was to meditate for 3 minutes daily. Now this week, the goal was to meditate for 35 minutes straight.
Setting yourself goals, however small they are, and achieving them is what puts you ahead in the long term.
We have to stop focusing on long-term goals, for example having a self-published book on the bestsellers list, and focus on the system that is going to get us there.
Establishing the goal isn’t even the first step. It’s essentially just an idea.
However, if you set yourself a weekly goal of writing one chapter for the book you want to write, then the next week the goal is to write two chapters, and so on. Your progress will compound.
“Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.”— Jim Rohn
Personal examples of the compound effect:
This is how striving for consistent progression on the small-scale compounds, into what will seem like one large leap towards your dreams. It is the beauty of compounding your achievements. Here’s some evidence of my own personal achievements building momentum:
- In the week of October 26th — November 1st, I wrote down to start reading one Medium article every day, to familiarise myself with what the platform was about.
- This slowly built up to me then aiming to write for 20 minutes a day in the week of November 23rd — 29th
- Between December 14th — December 20th I told myself to finish writing my first article.
- Now, this current week of January 11th — 17th I am aiming to write three articles in a week.
At the end of an unprecedented summer in 2020, I had no idea picking up a journal would restructure my life in such a purposeful way. My life was the 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, the journal was the only genius in the world who could put it together.
Most importantly though, as I finished my first full journal after 6 months of daily use, I realized how much I had fundamentally changed, and it was all down to the system I created.
It was so easy to do, the simplicity made it an easy habit to keep up with. Here is a few final key points to help you start or get you along the right path.
- Make it personal: Most things you will see on the internet about journaling and personal systems are all too complicated. Refer to Ryder Caroll (creator of the bullet journal method) for the fundamentals of how it works. Don’t forget to adapt it to what works for you. My system I showed is just for reference too, feel free to adapt. I perfected my own system through trial and error.
- Systems are more important than goals: Whatever system you devise, make sure that you include small short-term goals. Keep track of them in a clear way. Remember to make them so marginal that it would be silly to not do them. Over time, your achievements will compound and you will have made significant progress in life, mindset, long-term goals, and more.
- Highlight strengths and weaknesses: make sure to note down what in your life works for you and what doesn’t. Does going on a daily walk help your productivity? Does going on Instagram first thing in the morning make you stressed? Fine-tune your life through these weekly reflections.
- Simplicity = minimal time: The more simple it is, the less time you will need to spend journalling, and the more effective it will be. I spend less than 15 minutes a day writing in my journal. This is why I was able to keep up with this habit, daily and without fail for over 182 days. After learning about its importance, it's become a lifetime habit.
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